Netherland

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New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year 

In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, and left alone after his English wife and son return to London, Hans van den Broek stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. As the two men share their ...

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Overview

New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year 

In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, and left alone after his English wife and son return to London, Hans van den Broek stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. As the two men share their vastly different experiences of contemporary immigrant life in America, an unforgettable portrait emerges of an "other" New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality.

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Editorial Reviews

Siri Hustvedt
Netherland doesn't turn on plot. In both form and content, it questions the idea that a life can be told as a coherent story. It is organized not chronologically but as a series of memories linked by associations…At times, the novel's exacting descriptions felt less like a man's memory than a tour of his consciousness, and I wondered why a particular scene merited such detail, but Hans is a person who has lost his bearings after a shock and his myriad perceptions bear the stamp of this estrangement. Always sensitive and intelligent, Netherland tells the fragmented story of a man in exile—from home, family and, most poignantly, from himself.
—The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
Joseph O'Neill's stunning new novel, Netherland, provides a resonant meditation on the American Dream…[he] does a magical job of conjuring up the many New Yorks Hans gets to know. He captures the city's myriad moods, its anomalous neighborhoods jostling up against one another, its cacophony and stillness, its strivers, seekers, scam artists and scoundrels…Most memorably, he gives us New York as a place where the unlikeliest of people can become friends and change one another's lives, a place where immigrants like Chuck can nurture—and potentially lose—their dreams, and where others like Hans can find the promise of renewal.
—The New York Times
Dwight Garner
…here's what Netherland surely is: the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we've yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell. On a micro level, it's about a couple and their young son living in Lower Manhattan when the planes hit, and about the event's rippling emotional aftermath in their lives. On a macro level, it's about nearly everything: family, politics, identity. I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn't know I had…[O'Neill] seems incapable of composing a boring sentence or thinking an uninteresting thought
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

Tony award-winner Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife) follows the lead of author O'Neill for his reading of the lauded novel about Dutchman Hans van der Broek and the unusual bond he forms with fellow cricket buff and New York dreamer extraordinaire Chuck Ramkissoon. O'Neill's crisp, layered narrative and interest in the less-traveled byways of Brooklyn are reflected in Mays's understated take on Hans's narration (interestingly, he does not attempt a Dutch accent); Chuck's light, fruity Caribbean accent; and the denser accent of Chuck's wife. Mays is nothing if not a talented performer, and while there may be less than meets the eye to O'Neill's celebrated work, Mays's reading is a joy. A Pantheon hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 3).(Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Hans van den Broek, the main character in this ruminative third novel (and fourth book) by Irish/Turkish/English author O'Neill (Blood-Dark Track), is a Dutch-transplanted Londoner working in New York City at the start of the 21st century. Though a successful equities analyst, Hans is given more to reverie than to action. When his wife announces she is taking their young son back to London, Hans, stunned, remains in New York. He gets drawn into a friendship of sorts with Trinidadian entrepreneur Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreams of making cricket a great American sport, and who-Hans hears later-is eventually found dead in a canal. Hans's meandering, somewhat old-fashioned narrative takes a patient reader in and out of past and present: from his cricket-playing, fatherless childhood through his distant relationship with his mother, rocky marriage, and his own fatherhood, gradually revealing the appeal of the slowly unfolding game of cricket and fast-talking Chuck Ramkissoon to a man in his early thirties finding his way in a post-9/11 world. Recommended for literary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/08.]
—Laurie A. Cavanaugh

Kirkus Reviews
Novelist and memoirist O'Neill (Blood-Dark Track: A Family History, 2001, etc.), born in Ireland and raised in Holland, goes for broke in this challenging novel set largely in post-9/11 New York City. Dutch banker Hans, who narrates the story from the perspective of 2006, and his British wife Rachel, a lawyer, get more than they bargain for when they transfer their jobs from London to Manhattan for an American experience. After the World Trade Center bombing, they move out of their Tribeca loft into the Hotel Chelsea, and soon Rachel decamps with their baby son back to London. Hans visits regularly but the marriage flounders. Distraught and lonely, he joins a Cricket league made up mostly of Asian and Caribbean immigrants. Soon he (along with the reader) falls under the sway of Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian umpire. Chuck is a charming entrepreneur who has opened a kosher sushi restaurant; an inspiringly patriotic immigrant with plans to save America with Cricket; and a petty gangster running a numbers game. A classic charismatic rogue, Chuck leads Hans on a "Heart of Darkness" tour of New York's immigrant underbelly. As Hans begins to realize that Chuck might be a dangerous friend to have, Hans and Rachel's marriage disintegrates. At Chuck's recommendation, Hans moves back to England to win her back. Throughout, O'Neill plays with the nature of time and memory: Hans's Dutch childhood with his single mother, for example, still haunts him in New York. The shifting truths of who Chuck has been, who Hans's mother was, who Hans and Rachel are to each other, depend on what O'Neill calls "temporal undercurrents."This love story about a friendship, a place and a marriage is not easy to read,but it's even harder to stop thinking about.
From the Publisher
“Fascinating.... A wonderful book." —President Obama, interviewed by Jon Meacham in Newsweek (May 25, 2009 issue)

“Stunning . . . with echoes of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's masterpiece . . . a resonant meditation on the American Dream.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Exquisitely written. . . . A large fictional achievement, and one of the most remarkable post-colonial books I have ever read. . . . Netherland has a deep human wisdom.” —James Wood, The New Yorker

“I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn't know I had. . . . It has more life inside it than ten very good novels.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

“Elegant.... Always sensitive and intelligent, Netherland tells the fragmented story of a man in exile—from home, family and, most poignantly, from himself.” —Washington Post Book World

“Suspenseful, artful, psychologically pitch-perfect, and a wonderful read.... Joseph O'Neill has managed to paint the most famous city in the world, and the most familiar concept in the world (love) in an entirely new way” Jonathan Safran Foer author of Everything is Illuminated 

“Haunting.... O’Neill’s elegant prose makes for a striking read.” —Entertainment Weekly

“A beautifully written meditation on despair, loss, and exile.” —USA Today

“Remarkable.... Note-perfect.” —Vogue

“Outstanding.... A coming-of-middle-age tale.” —Newsweek

“O’Neill’s writing is unendingly beautiful.” —The Los Angeles Times

“Brilliant.... A post–9/11 novel that takes us closer to understanding the emotional wreckage.” —GQ

“Provocative, luminous.... A fine, darkly glowing novel.” —The Boston Globe

"A dense, intelligent novel... O'Neill offers an outsider's view of New York bursting with wisdom, authenticity, and a sobering jolt of realism." —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

"O'Neill writes a prose of Banvillean grace and beauty, shimmering with truthfulness, as poised as it is unsettling. He is a master of the long sentence, of the half-missed moment, of the strange archaeology of the troubled marriage. Many have tried to write a great American novel. Joseph O'Neill has succeeded." Joseph O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea

"Somewhere between the towns of Saul Bellow and Ian McEwan, O'Neill has pitched his miraculous tent. Netherland is a novel about provisionality, marginality; its registers are many, one of the most potent being its extremely grown-up nostalgia. The dominant sense is of aftermath, things flying off under the impulse of an unwanted explosion, and the human voice calling everything back." Sebastian Barry, author of A Long Long Way

The Barnes & Noble Review
Joseph O'Neill's Netherland is the rare fiction that is unabashed at the fact of its having been written. Hans, the pensive narrator, is a foreigner twice removed -- a Dutchman arrived in New York City by way of London -- and his voice has an outsider's relish for the stranger words and usages of English. With a keenly perceptive eye, Hans takes us through his solitary New York existence in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks: his wife has left, taking their young son back with her to England, and Hans faces sudden, stark awareness of his own isolation. A tip-off from a cab driver leads him to a largely immigrant-driven cricket scene in New York's outer boroughs, and Hans falls into an unlikely friendship with a soliloquizing Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, whose grandiose plan is to turn an unattended patch of park near JFK airport into an international cricket mecca. What follows is an awakening of sorts for Hans -- a chance for the recovery of a lost self -- and a less fortunate outcome for Chuck, whose racketeering operation introduces Hans to a seamier side of New York. While it would be easy to lump Netherland into the burgeoning school of post-9/11 fiction, its fixations have more to do with how a singular mind navigates the atomized world of the modern city (in this respect, O'Neill's Irish inheritance is plainly visible). The novel is low on action and heavy on musing, but the sharpness of O'Neill's reflective sensibility is more than enough to keep things moving: he packs into Hans all the revelation and despair of a man able to tunnel into his own depths. --Amelia Atlas
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307377043
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/20/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. His previous works include the novels This Is the Life and The Breezes and the nonfiction book Blood-Dark Track, a family history centered on the mysterious imprisonment of both his grandfathers during World War II, which was a New York Times Notable Book. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly. He lives with his family in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Netherland

A Novel


By Joseph O'Neill Pantheon

Copyright © 2008 Joseph O'Neill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307377043


The afternoon before i left London for New York—Rachel had flown out six weeks previously—I was in my cubicle at work, boxing up my possessions, when a senior vice-president at the bank, an Englishman in his fifties, came to wish me well. I was surprised; he worked in another part of the building and in another department, and we were known to each other only by sight. Nevertheless, he asked me in detail about where I intended to live (“Watts? Which block on Watts?”) and reminisced for several minutes about his loft on Wooster Street and his outings to the “original” Dean & DeLuca. He was doing nothing to hide his envy.

“We won’t be gone for very long,” I said, playing down my good fortune. That was, in fact, the plan, conceived by my wife: to drop in on New York City for a year or three and then come back.

“You say that now,” he said. “But New York’s a very hard place to leave. And once you do leave . . .” The S.V.P., smiling, said, “I still miss it, and I left twelve years ago.”

It was my turn to smile—in part out of embarrassment, because he’d spoken with an American openness. “Well, we’ll see,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “You will.”

His sureness irritatedme, though principally he was pitiable—like one of those Petersburgians of yesteryear whose duties have washed him up on the wrong side of the Urals.

But it turns out he was right, in a way. Now that I, too, have left that city, I find it hard to rid myself of the feeling that life carries a taint of aftermath. This last-mentioned word, somebody once told me, refers literally to a second mowing of grass in the same season. You might say, if you’re the type prone to general observations, that New York City insists on memory’s repetitive mower—on the sort of purposeful postmortem that has the effect, so one is told and forlornly hopes, of cutting the grassy past to manageable proportions. For it keeps growing back, of course. None of this means that I wish I were back there now; and naturally I’d like to believe that my own retrospection is in some way more important than the old S.V.P.’s, which, when I was exposed to it, seemed to amount to not much more than a cheap longing. But there’s no such thing as a cheap longing, I’m tempted to conclude these days, not even if you’re sobbing over a cracked fingernail. Who knows what happened to that fellow over there? Who knows what lay behind his story about shopping for balsamic vinegar? He made it sound like an elixir, the poor bastard.

At any rate, for the first two years or so of my return to England, I did my best to look away from New York—where, after all, I’d been unhappy for the first time in my life. I didn’t go back there in person, and I didn’t wonder very often about what had become of a man named Chuck Ramkissoon, who’d been a friend during my final East Coast summer and had since, in the way of these things, become a transitory figure. Then, one evening in the spring of this year, 2006, Rachel and I are at home, in Highbury. She is absorbed by a story in the newspaper. I have already read it. It concerns a group of tribespeople that has emerged from the Amazon forest in Colombia. They are reportedly tired of the hard jungle life, although it’s noted they still like nothing better than to eat monkey, grilled and then boiled. A disturbing photograph of a boy gnawing at a blackened little skull illustrates this fact. The tribespeople have no idea of the existence of a host country named Colombia, and no idea, more hazardously, of diseases like the common cold or influenza, against which they have no natural defenses.

“Hello,” Rachel says, “your tribe has come to light.”

I’m still smiling when I answer the ringing phone. A New York Times reporter asks for Mr. van den Broek.

The reporter says, “This is about Kham, ah, Khamraj Ramkissoon . . . ?”

“Chuck,” I say, sitting down at the kitchen table. “It’s Chuck Ramkissoon.”

She tells me that Chuck’s “remains” have been found in the Gowanus Canal. There were handcuffs around his wrists and evidently he was the victim of a murder.

I don’t say anything. It seems to me this woman has told an obvious lie and that if I think about it long enough a rebuttal will come to me.

Her voice says, “Did you know him well?” When I don’t answer, she says, “It says somewhere you were his business partner.”

“That’s not accurate,” I say.

“But you were in business together, right? That’s what my note says.”

“No,” I say. “You’ve been misinformed. He was just a friend.”

She says, “Oh—OK.” There is a tapping of a keyboard and a hiatus.

“So—is there anything you can tell me about his milieu?”

“His milieu?” I say, startled into correcting her mooing pronunciation.

“Well, you know—who he hung out with, what kind of trouble he might have gotten himself into, any shady characters . . .” She adds with a faint laugh, “It is kind of unusual, what happened.”

I realize that I’m upset, even angry.

“Yes,” I finally say. “You have quite a story on your hands.”

The next day a small piece runs in the Metro section. It has been established that Chuck Ramkissoon’s body lay in the water by the Home Depot building for over two years, among crabs and car tires and shopping carts, until a so-called urban diver made a “macabre discovery” while filming a school of striped bass. Over the next week there is a trickle of follow-up items, none of them informative. But apparently it is interesting to readers, and reassuring to certain traditionalists, that the Gowanus Canal can still turn up a murder victim. There’s death in the old girl yet, as one commentator wittily puts it.

The night we receive the news, Rachel, in bed next to me, asks, “So who’s this man?” When I don’t immediately answer, she puts down her book.

“Oh,” I say, “I’m sure I’ve told you about him. A cricket guy I used to know. A guy from Brooklyn.”

She repeats after me, “Chuck Ramkissoon?”

Her voice contains an amused note I don’t like. I roll away onto one shoulder and close my eyes. “Yes,” I say. “Chuck Ramkissoon.”



Chuck and I met for the first time in August 2002. I was playing cricket at Randolph Walker Park, in Staten Island, and Chuck was present as one of the two independent umpires who gave their services in return for a fifty-dollar honorarium. The day was thick as a jelly, with a hot, glassy atmosphere and no wind, not even a breeze from the Kill of Kull, which flows less than two hundred yards from Walker Park and separates Staten Island from New Jersey. Far away, in the south, was the mumbling of thunder. It was the kind of barbarously sticky American afternoon that made me yearn for the shadows cast by scooting summer clouds in northern Europe, yearn even for those days when you play cricket wearing two sweaters under a cold sky patched here and there by a blue tatter—enough to make a sailor’s pants, as my mother used to say.

By the standards I brought to it, Walker Park was a very poor place for cricket. The playing area was, and I am sure still is, half the size of a regulation cricket field. The outfield is uneven and always overgrown, even when cut (once, chasing a ball, I nearly tripped over a hidden and, to cricketers, ominous duck), and whereas proper cricket, as some might call it, is played on a grass wicket, the pitch at Walker Park is made of clay, not turf, and must be covered with coconut matting; moreover the clay is pale sandy baseball clay, not red cricket clay, and its bounce cannot be counted on to stay true for long; and to the extent that it is true, it lacks variety and complexity. (Wickets consisting of earth and grass are rich with possibility: only they can fully challenge and reward a bowler’s repertoire of cutters and spinners and bouncers and seamers, and only these, in turn, can bring out and fully test a batsman’s repertoire of defensive and attacking strokes, not to mention his mental powers.) There is another problem. Large trees—pin oaks, red oaks, sweetgums, and American linden trees—clutter the fringes of Walker Park. Any part of these trees, even the smallest hanging leaf, must be treated as part of the boundary, and this brings randomness into the game. Often a ball will roll between the tree trunks, and the fielder running after it will partially disappear, so that when he reemerges, ball in hand, a shouting match will start up about exactly what happened.

By local standards, however, Walker Park is an attractive venue. Tennis courts said to be the oldest in the United States neighbor the cricket field, and the park itself is surrounded on all sides by Victorian houses with elaborately planted gardens. For as long as anyone can remember, the local residents have tolerated the occasional crash of a cricket ball, arriving like a gigantic meteoritic cranberry, into their flowering shrubbery. Staten Island Cricket Club was founded in 1872, and its teams have played on this little green every summer for over a hundred years. Walker Park was owned by the club until the 1920s. Nowadays the land and its clubhouse—a neo-Tudor brick structure dating back to the 1930s, its precursor having been destroyed by fire—are the property of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In my time, a parks department employee, a phantom-like individual who was never seen, reportedly lived in the attic. The main room was rented out to a nursery school, and only the basement and the beaten-up locker room were routinely made available to cricketers. Nevertheless, no other New York cricket club enjoys such amenities or such a glorious history: Donald Bradman and Garry Sobers, the greatest cricketers of all time, have played at Walker Park. The old ground is also fortunate in its tranquillity. Other cricketing venues, places such as Idlewild Park and Marine Park and Monroe Cohen Ballfield, lie directly beneath the skyways to JFK. Elsewhere, for example Seaview Park (which of course has no view of a sea), in Canarsie, the setting is marred not only by screeching aircraft but also by the inexhaustible roar of the Belt Parkway, the loop of asphalt that separates much of south Brooklyn from salt water.

What all these recreational areas have in common are rank outfields that largely undermine the art of batting, which is directed at hitting the ball along the ground with that elegant variety of strokes a skillful batsman will have spent years trying to master and preserve: the glance, the hook, the cut, the sweep, the cover drive, the pull, and all those other offspring of technique conceived to send the cricket ball rolling and rolling, as if by magic, to the far-off edge of the playing field. Play such orthodox shots in New York and the ball will more than likely halt in the tangled, weedy ground cover: grass as I understand it, a fragrant plant wondrously suited for athletic pastimes, flourishes with difficulty; and if something green and grasslike does grow, it is never cut down as cricket requires. Consequently, in breach of the first rule of batting, the batsman is forced to smash the ball into the air—to go deep, as it’s said, borrowing the baseball term; and batting is turned into a gamble. As a result, fielding is distorted, too, since the fielders are quickly removed from their infield positions—point, extra cover, midwicket, and the others—to distant stations on the boundary, where they listlessly linger. It’s as if baseball were a game about home runs rather than base hits, and its basemen were relocated to spots deep in the outfield. This degenerate version of the sport—bush cricket, as Chuck more than once dismissed it—inflicts an injury that is aesthetic as much as anything: the American adaptation is devoid of the beauty of cricket played on a lawn of appropriate dimensions, where the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converge in unison toward the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.

Continues...

Excerpted from Netherland by Joseph O'Neill Copyright © 2008 by Joseph O'Neill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Introduction

“Stunning . . . with echoes of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's masterpiece . . . a resonant meditation on the American Dream.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland.

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Foreword

1. Describe the structure of Netherland. Why does the author open with Hans moving to New York City and then quickly jump into the future with Chuck's death and then jump back? Do you think these flashbacks and foward leaps relate to the narrative arc of the story? Is this simply how we tell stories? When you tell a story do you tell it chronologically? Why?

2. Childhood often slips into the story-that of both Hans and Chuck. Early on in the novel, Hans mentions that he doesn't connect to himself as a child ("I, however, seem given to self-estrangement" [p. 49]), then proceeds to produce numerous memories of his childhood and of his mother. How is this reconnecting with his heritage and his past important to the story? How is Chuck often the catalyst for these memories?

3. Chuck is more connected to his heritage than Hans. He socializes with others from the West Indies; he's married to a woman from his birth country, etc. How do flashbacks to his childhood differ from Hans's and how do they affect the novel as a whole?

4. How does nostalgia play into Netherland? Who is nostalgic and for what? Why does O'Neill open the novel with someone being nostalgic for New York City?

5. Discuss the title. What does "netherland" mean and what do you think it refers to?

6. Chuck's motto is "think fantastic." How does this both help and hinder him? Can you create an appropriate motto for Hans? How about for yourself?

7. What does the United States represent for Hans and Chuck? How are their relationships with their new country similar, and also polar opposites?

8. How are both Han's and Chuck's experiences typicalof the American dream of immigrant stories? Compare Netherland to other stories of the immigrant experience (The Joy Luck Club, The House on Mango Street, House of Sand and Fog) or to what you imagine immigrating to a new country to be like.

9. Is the American Dream the same after 9/11? How are Americans both united and divided after 9/11? How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11?

10. Describe the narrator's voice. Do you trust and like Hans as a narrator? Do you sympathize with him and understand his motives? Do you identify with him?

11. Describe the Chelsea Hotel when Hans lives there. How is it a character in the novel? How are the various inhabitants and the oddness of the place appealing and comforting to Hans?

12. What is Han's relationship with his mother? How does the relationship continue to affect him after his mother's death? How does it affect his being a father?

13. Discuss the theme of male friendship in the novel and its connection to sports. Early in the novel, Hans describes playing cricket with Chuck: "The rest of our lives—jobs, children, wives, worries—peeled away, leaving only this fateful sporting fruit [p. 48]." While Hans's friendship with Chuck goes beyond cricket, the sport is what initially brings the two men together. Why do you think cricket is so important to Hans? How does his friendship with Chuck change him?

14. Netherland is also the story of a marriage. Why is Hans and Rachel's marriage falling apart? What brings them together again in the end?

15. Discuss the theme of betrayal and forgiveness in Netherland. How do both Rachel and Hans betray each other and why? What about Chuck? Do the characters ever lead themselves astray and betray themselves? Does America betray both Chuck and Hans in the end?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Describe the structure of Netherland. Why does the author open with Hans moving to New York City and then quickly jump into the future with Chuck's death and then jump back? Do you think these flashbacks and foward leaps relate to the narrative arc of the story? Is this simply how we tell stories? When you tell a story do you tell it chronologically? Why?

2. Childhood often slips into the story-that of both Hans and Chuck. Early on in the novel, Hans mentions that he doesn't connect to himself as a child ("I, however, seem given to self-estrangement" [p. 49]), then proceeds to produce numerous memories of his childhood and of his mother. How is this reconnecting with his heritage and his past important to the story? How is Chuck often the catalyst for these memories?

3. Chuck is more connected to his heritage than Hans. He socializes with others from the West Indies; he's married to a woman from his birth country, etc. How do flashbacks to his childhood differ from Hans's and how do they affect the novel as a whole?

4. How does nostalgia play into Netherland? Who is nostalgic and for what? Why does O'Neill open the novel with someone being nostalgic for New York City?

5. Discuss the title. What does "netherland" mean and what do you think it refers to?

6. Chuck's motto is "think fantastic." How does this both help and hinder him? Can you create an appropriate motto for Hans? How about for yourself?

7. What does the United States represent for Hans and Chuck? How are their relationships with their new country similar, and also polar opposites?

8. How are both Han's and Chuck's experiences typical of the American dream of immigrant stories? Compare Netherland to other stories of the immigrant experience (The Joy Luck Club, The House on Mango Street, House of Sand and Fog) or to what you imagine immigrating to a new country to be like.

9. Is the American Dream the same after 9/11? How are Americans both united and divided after 9/11? How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11?

10. Describe the narrator's voice. Do you trust and like Hans as a narrator? Do you sympathize with him and understand his motives? Do you identify with him?

11. Describe the Chelsea Hotel when Hans lives there. How is it a character in the novel? How are the various inhabitants and the oddness of the place appealing and comforting to Hans?

12. What is Han's relationship with his mother? How does the relationship continue to affect him after his mother's death? How does it affect his being a father?

13. Discuss the theme of male friendship in the novel and its connection to sports. Early in the novel, Hans describes playing cricket with Chuck: "The rest of our lives—jobs, children, wives, worries—peeled away, leaving only this fateful sporting fruit [p. 48]." While Hans's friendship with Chuck goes beyond cricket, the sport is what initially brings the two men together. Why do you think cricket is so important to Hans? How does his friendship with Chuck change him?

14. Netherland is also the story of a marriage. Why is Hans and Rachel's marriage falling apart? What brings them together again in the end?

15. Discuss the theme of betrayal and forgiveness in Netherland. How do both Rachel and Hans betray each other and why? What about Chuck? Do the characters ever lead themselves astray and betray themselves? Does America betray both Chuck and Hans in the end?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 60 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(18)

4 Star

(12)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(9)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 60 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Did not live up to the hype

    I remember when this book first came out, there was a lot of buzz about it in various magazines and periodicals. I selected it as the first book for a book club we were starting. I thought it would be topical as it was billed as the first post-9/11 American novel to deal with subject matter related to the tragedy.<BR/><BR/>No one in our book club liked this book. I will say that the writer has a way with words and his images are poetic and beautiful. Otherwise, the book is a massive bore. Uninteresting characters placed in uninteresting circumstances reacting in uninteresting ways. The plot meanders without regard to any sort of timeline so it's not clear when events are happening in relation to one another. I feel like this book was ambitious but not fully realized.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    Disappointing

    Like the last reviewer, I recommended this book for my book club based on the buzz and the fact this book was on the best 100 and even some of the best 10 books of 2008 lists. Only one member liked it and I think that was, in part, because she is Dutch. Were the rest of us missing something? The plot was puzzling, the characters were one dimensional and even unlikable with the sole exception of Chuck, the optimistic, confident immigrant so taken with his vision of the American dream. Rachel, the wife, was whining and self centered and Hans, the main character, was so disengaged from life that he appears more like a puppy dog who plays with anyone who throws him a ball than an adult professional. Pages of descriptions of cricket did not help either. Disappointing.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A waste of my time

    The book reviews on this are great, the novel...not so much. To wrap it up in one fair sweep: I was bored. The entire time, bored. There was no connection between the main character and his situation. He was stale and distant from everything about his wife leaving him to his mother's death. Finally in the last paragraph, the very ending of the book does he show this bit of humanness, this bit of reality that is poetic and genuine. Oh, I tried so hard to enjoy this book, I pressed on with it though I wanted to fling it to the floor. And still after getting over half way through I hadn't even touched on anything minutely interesting, so I skipped to the last ten pages or so and claimed it finished. And even those last few pages were stale as last year's bread and I found myself blah-blahing through sentences, trudging toward the ending like through two feet of wet sand. There is nothing compelling in the story, nothing to move you forward because the main character is not compelled, he cares nothing for what comes his way, for the people around him, whether his wife comes back to him. Certainly I don't blame his wife for leaving him in the first place (which, by the way, is not even pondered by the character on why she left) because I was also ready to fly to another country and be done with this man. I'm sorry, I don't agree with the famous reviews of this one. I am dissappointed and can't believe I bought a hardback edition of this, which is going to the used bookstore today. These are the kind of books that make me think some of these book reviews have cash incentives behind them. Simply boring, a waste of my time.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2008

    Wow. Amazing book.

    This book is most definitely one of the best books I have ever read. Hans appears to be this depressed, nonchalant character that pretty much lets his marriage and life go down the drain. But, deep down, you can truly tell that he cares about his family, especially Rachel. <BR/><BR/>Chuck - Now, he's another interesting character. He seems to want to be in everything, totally risky - Kind of like your average gangster immigrant. However, he seems to like Hans more than Hans likes Chuck. Hans sort of brushes him off as a regular guy - no real intent, or friendship worth cherishing. But, yet, Chuck goes out of his way to teach him to drive, meets him in Peekskill and then share stories of his brother (whom, he states, he never told anyone else about). More so, Hans is even listed as Chuck's Business Partner.<BR/><BR/>Part of me wants to blame that on Hans. He seems to be so apathetic towards many things, that he overlooks some valuable, and outlook-changing characters, such as Chuck. It's a shame he never acknowledged him before he died. <BR/><BR/>Book is most definitely interesting. Beautifully crafted and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. :)

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2008

    Longwinded and boring

    I bought this booked based on a summer reading list I saw. What a big mistake. Post 9/11 in NYC, main character's wife leaves with child, he stays behind though they are from Europe, and meets strange people, mostly from playing cricket. Most sentences are extremely longwinded with an overuse of flowery language that causes your mind to wander. It is not written in a way to keep your attention, and I fall asleep every time I try to read it. Timeline bounces all over the place, and not in a good way. The characters seem unrelatable. I am forcing myself through this book because I feel like I must be missing something with good reviews from the literary, English major types, but I have decided they must like to pat themselves on the back when they can write a book where most sentences take up an entire paragraph. There has been nothing interesting or enjoyable about this book, and I have read many over the years. For just us regular people who like to read, I'd say this book is boring, disjointed, difficult to follow, and some parts too boring to read. It doesn't appear to get any better no matter how far into the 'story' you get.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Best Book in Many Years

    "Netherland" is, quite simply, the best book I've read in many years. I finished in tears and immediately started reading it again. What a beautiful, beautiful book.
    I have to say I'm amazed at some of the low ratings the book has received here. I would be curious to know where the readers who rate the book with one or two stars actually live. In addition to his meditation on the 'American Dream', O'Neill perfectly captures the mood of New York City in the first years after 9/11 and it may be that the simplicity, truth and honesty of the writing affects those who witnessed it on a daily basis in a radically different way. For me, "Netherland" was one of the most powerful reading experiences I'v ever had and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2009

    Interesting read

    I found the book interesting to read, but it did not engage me. I read it with my book club and the book did provoke a lively discussion. I am glad I read it and thought it worthwhile. However, I would not recommend it to the casual reader. It takes perseverance to get through some of the parts.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    USA after 9/11

    Netherland by Joseph O'Neill is now in paperback. Its ISBN is 007275706 and it is published by Harper. It is a complex book with long sentences balanced with elegant prose. It has many intellectual contemplations and it is indeed a great literary novel. Some readers will find its jumping back and forth in time confusing. The plot is America through immigrants eyes after Sep 11th and on the verge of the Iraq War.It discusses New York City and cricket at length, the many pages of detail I could have done without. The story centralises around Hans a banker who lives in Chelsea Hotel after 9/11. His wife Rachael has left him and taken their child to live in London. Hans is devastated and mixes with other immigrants in New York. We read of their dreams, seeing the US as outsiders looking in. His friend Chuck wants to introduce cricket into the US but then this rogue is found dead. Rachael comes back to Hans in the end. This stands as a metaphor of hope and strength and rebirth of the US. I found it unncessarily detailed and long winded in places and would have liked more development of story and characters. It is well written and I do recommend you read this. This is reviewed by Annette Dunlea author of Always and Forever and The Honey Trap.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    maybe a metaphor

    Until we discussed this book at our monthly book club meeting,did I understand that the book is really about immigrant integration in the US.It is extremely well written but a very slow development of plot/purpose.6 of the 8 members vetoed the book at the start of our discussion. Most of us felt no connection to the main character[or any of the characters for that matter] and were totally bored with the cricket focus. Our long discussion led us to a deeper understanding that the story is perhaps a metaphor for the way the US is culturally changing with the integration of our new citizens from abroad.It took all 8 of us to figure this out and I must add that we are all highly educated serious readers.The discussion was far more interesting than the book itself!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2009

    Thought-provoking, lovely language, works on many levels

    This novel makes connections at many levels. What are the dreams that people bring to New York City and the United States? How does a couple deal with the post-traumatic shock of 9/11? How does a young man trace his identity to his homeland? What are the reflections of culture and identity in New York State, the Netherlands, and England? Brilliant book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Netherland and New York Meet

    The writing is beautifully crafted with images I will remember long after the reading. Some of my favorites were the cricket field, NY, and later in the book with sun messing the water. London, NY, and Holland just before 911 are the settings where characters come alive with thoughts, actions, and reflections that sometimes seem dreamlike. The main character is a young man from Holland, working in London. As he travels, works, and experiences his marriage, parenthood, the sport of cricket, and some unusual friendships the plot unfolds. When I read the last sentences I was vitally aware of the growth. I thought it was a very good read and it replays in my mind even weeks after completing it. Cricket, family, NY. moms and the perspective captured me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    Written with proper words in proper places, this astonishing and complex novel was a joy to read. In contrast to its plain cover, this marvelous novel, written in mellifluous and elegant prose, is complex its world sprawling and vast, with mind-boggling depth. After reading only two pages, I found myself charmed by its narrator¿s voice, and my mind glued to his world. On the surface it is the story of its narrator, a banker named Hans van den Broek , born and raised in Netherlands, and working in London. While working in London in a bank, he meets an Englishwoman named Rachel and marries her. They have a son named Jake. In 1990¿s, they relocate to New York and live in TriBeCa. After the terrorist attack on the Word Trade Center on 9/11, however, they relocate again, and decide to live in the Chelsea Hotel. But Rachel¿s fear of another terrorist attack and the toxic political atmosphere in the United States create stress in their marriage, and the stress in turn compels Rachel to move with her son, once again, back to London. Underneath this story, there is another story about a Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon. Chuck is a shady character. He runs a fraudulent and illegal numbers racket and a kosher sushi business. But like all men, even a man from the under-world, he has big ambitions and a dream of starting a world-class cricket field and cricket club in Staten Island and of turning cricket into a national sport in America. The third story inter-woven with the other two is the story of the game cricket itself and its ardent players at the Staten Island Cricket Club, immigrants from countries such as Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Bahamas, and other tropical countries. Mr. O¿Neill weaves the three strands into a lovely braid, his lyrical prose serving as an adornment, like a rope of jasmine that often adorns a braid in tropical lands. The most striking feature of this novel, without a doubt, is Mr. O¿Neill¿s elegant and flowing prose, smooth and free from jarring edges and ripples, and as lovely as the very best I have read in my fifty years of romance with the English language: ¿The day was thick as a jelly, with a hot, glassy atmosphere and no wind, not even a breeze from the Kill of Kull, which flows less than two hundred yards from Walker Park and separates Staten Island from New Jersey. Far away, in the south, was the mumbling of thunder. It was the kind of barbarously sticky American afternoon that made me yearn for the shadows cast by scooting summer clouds in northern Europe, yearn even for those days when you play cricket wearing two sweaters under a cold sky patched here and there by a blue tatter ¿ enough to make a sailor's pants, as my mother used to say.¿ Mr. O¿Neill¿s command over the English language is such that even his long sentences glide on the pages without annoying the reader. If you are in search of that rare novel with a complex and fascinating story and written in elegant prose, read this novel to experience the joy of reading.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2014

    This brilliantly written novel by Joseph O¿neill, Netherland con

    This brilliantly written novel by Joseph O’neill, Netherland continuously keeps you entertained. This novel does an excellent job describing the way America is today, a mix of very diverse cultures. This story was very relatable for me as my parents are immigrants who came from a country with a very different culture. It is sometimes difficult to feel comfortable in a world that is new to someone, and O’neill does a good job of portraying that.




    At the beginning of the novel the Hans, A newcomer to New York City, is recently left by his wife and child. Naturally he is lonely and feels out of place. This is where I could relate to him as a minority in the United States. Later he is introduced to the world of cricket in New York, which is filled with immigrants from around the world. Before this he believes the “American Dream” had become just that, a dream, but here he learns that it is alive and well. All of his friends he makes have had to endure hard work to get to their goal in life. After a new look on life he finally goes back to London to be a better father and husband to child and wife. He plans a trip to India to develop a closer bond and presumably to enculturate his child who should learn about different cultures.

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  • Posted March 23, 2012

    Read this while on vacation. Light and easy read. I enjoyed the

    Read this while on vacation. Light and easy read. I enjoyed the intertwining of two very different, yet relevant stories; NYC post 9/11 and a marriage falling apart. Honest, eye-of-the-storm account of both 'tornadoes' happening in this his life.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Gatsby Redivivus?

    When Chuck Ramkissoon, the Trinidadian small-time gangster and big-time cricket dreamer, takes Hans van den Broek, the "Flying Dutchman" seeking a home port that may not exist, to Green-Wood Cemetery to see the grave of Henry Chadwick, Hans comments, "My attention was given over to the small square stone in the grass -- a maverick slab of crazy paving, one might have thought -- on which Chuck had carelessly placed a foot. It was a gravestone. A word was engraved on it: DAISY." Just in case the reader of the last 200 pages hadn't cottoned to the author's intention of recreating The Great Gatsby, here lay the final clue. Was O'Neill successful in rewriting the Great American Novel in a post-9/11 form? No, but in his attempt, he has produced a work that is interesting in its own right. His handling of the transformative experience of 9/11 is both deft and subtle. His Chuck Ramkissoon is in some ways more "alive" than Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. The nostalgia experienced by Hans which pervades the novel is quite different in kind from that of Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway. In terms of atmosphere, I was reminded more of novels by Bernhard Schlink, Harry Mulisch, and W. G. Sebald. Some of O'Neill's language and imagery is beautiful and poignant, and the novel is well wrought. The descriptions of preparing the cricket field and those of Hans using Google Earth were well done and evocative. I must admit to a desire to take a cricket bat to Hans on more than one occasion when his self-questioning ennui became a bit too much to bear. The novel does have valuable lessons and deserves a second reading. I liked O'Neill's use of the quotation from Book II of the Georgics, seemingly as a throwaway line, ["O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint, agricolas.":] which is, of course, a major AUTHOR'S MESSAGE, inviting the reader to join Vergil "ignarosque viae mecum miseratus agrestis".

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    Cricket confusion

    Beautifully written, but plodding, with sentences that run forever. Most of the time I did not know where the author was going with his thoughts. However, complex characters made me want to know more. And I cared about them. I'd like to know more about the game of cricket!

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A definite educational read

    Unfortunately, I'm only a third of the way through and still watching for the Gatsby angle. However, I am enjoying the knowledge of cricket I'm gaining and especially the reminder of 9/11. Actually, I'm learning a lot more about the scenery and events surrounding the aftermath of this horrific event in our moral growth. Not being a New Yorker this book has shared the tragic emotions many closer to the event suffer. I never really thought that much about the scars many Americans have now. I superficially know that many people continue to suffer and live wtih the effects of that day, that bombing on our continient, but this is giving me a deeper awareness of the dramatic elements many are still dealing with and probably will be for a long time to come. It has made me remember.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2009

    Well written book.

    The story had a very real, human feeling. O'Neill developed the main character with very believable characteristics. It was a fun coincidence that we were in England during the cricket championship in July.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2009

    Post 911 NY experience

    One marriage upended by the fallout from 911.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Couldn't get past the first 20 pages

    Everyone loves loves loves this book. It is on just about every recommendation list in the world. I never NOT finish books but I didn't get very far here. I just didn't like the characters at all.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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